By Matt Brooks
Saturday, March 6, 2010; D08
Potomac Falls entered Friday's Virginia AA Division 4 quarterfinal coming off a string of dominant performances in which it jumped ahead of its opponent from the outset and held on for five straight victories.
So when the Panthers went into the locker room at Robinson leading Region I runner-up Tabb by a single point at halftime, they had to make a change.
Using a 2-3 zone defense to contain Tabb's outside shooting threat and getting the ball in the hands of junior playmaker Lukas Mihailovich, the Panthers pulled away in the third quarter to claim a 58-51 win and continue the best season in program history.
"We were a little stressed out going into the half," Mihailovich said. "But we knew if we just came out and scrapped and played a little harder in the third quarter, we were going to push it to a 10-point lead and we don't let those go. That got everybody's head up and we just took it from there."
The No. 20 Panthers (21-2) led throughout the first quarter but fell behind to start the second as juniors Patrick Corbett and Quinlin McCormick nailed a pair of three-pointers as Tabb (18-10) took a 21-16 lead. But the Panthers responded with a 12-2 run keyed by a steal and layup from Mihailovich to regain the lead.
Down the stretch, the Panthers continued to go to their dynamic junior guard, who scored the final eight points of the night for his team, including 4 of 5 from the line. Mihailovich led all scorers with 24 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and two assists on a night when both teams went 10 deep on their benches, constantly shuffling matchups with hockey-style line changes.
"I love the pressure of having the free throws at the end of the game," Mihailovich said. "When a team gets down or in a tough spot, it's just my job as a captain and team leader to demand the ball and get the team out of that situation. That's just what I try to do."
Sophomore center Greg Graves had eight of his nine points in the second half and added nine rebounds while Brendon Chesson chipped in eight points on the night for a Panther team that features 10 juniors. McCormick led nine Tabb scorers with 13 points. With the win, the Panthers advanced to Tuesday's semifinals at VCU's Siegel Center, where they will face the winner of Salem and Spotswood.
"We've been playing so daggone well," Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes said. "Tonight took some guts and we had to dig in. I never dreamt this with this group to be going to Richmond."Freedom rolls
In the first game of the Division 4 doubleheader, defending Division 3 girls' state champions Freedom-South Riding raced to a 21-0 lead against Courtland and coasted to a 75-41 victory.
Senior center Kelsey Buchanan used a five-inch height advantage on the Cougars' tallest player -- 5-foot-10 forward Jessica Hairston -- to bully her way to 27 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks for her 11th consecutive double-double. Senior Jessica Escorza added 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists as the Eagles (19-5) took full advantage of 35 Courtland turnovers to earn a return trip to Richmond for Tuesday's semifinals. They will face the winner of Bassett and Turner Ashby.
"Everyone was just ready to play, everyone was focused," Escorza said. "We knew we had to go in there and just show them from the beginning why we're the state champions."